Essence Of Pranayama
Taken from the book Essence Of Pranayama dedicated to the sacred memory of Swami Kuvalayandra. The founder of Kaivalyadhama
The word pranayama is a combination of two Sanskrit terms Prana and Ayama.
Prana means breathing activity and Ayama means restrain, control or the conscious manipulation.
However when we study Pranayama in its more essential and deeper aspect, the term Prana indicates energy responsible for all living activities in the human being, ie the functions of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and excretory systems to the very subtle psycho-spirtual activities of the nerve brain system.
The term Ayama is the expanse or the whole range of these pranic activities, with a view to gain a complete control over it.
Ordinarily, we never become aware of all the life activities going on inside the body space known as Ghatakasha. We only think of these activities occasionally when we may have pain or pleasure. Only when we develop our yoga practice and our complete awareness can we come to know how to regulate these systems.
Pranayama from the third century onwards became the core practice of Hatha Yoga.
There are five major aspects of prana.
Prana- Responsible for maintaining the life process.
Samana- Converts the energy into a suitable form so that the body can use it.
Vyana- Transports the energy to each and every cell of the human body.
Apana- Is the name given to taking waste material away from the body.
Udana- Responsible for many higher functions of the body like expression and communication.
Nadi´s are the channels throughout the body which the pranic energy uses to move around the body.
There are a network of thousands of Nadi´s all over the body. The three most important ones are,
Which comes from the left side of the base of the spine. Spiraling upwards to the left nostril. It controls all the activities which are anabolic, which conserve energy and give a cooling effect to the body. This is associated with the female side of the body governed by the moon.
This comes from the right side of the base of the spine, spiraling upwards to the right nostril. It controls all activities which are catabolic or destructive in nature, that consume energy and generate heat in the body. This side is associated with the male aspect and governed by the sun.
Also arises from the base of the spine travelling up the mid line between Ida and Pingala Nadis. It travels all the way to the brain. Described as white in colour, normally it remains inactive, but when you practice yoga the fuctions of Ida and Pingala Nadis are brought into complete harmony and begin to function as a whole, which then starts to open Sushumna Nadi. As the energy gets activated the pranic energy starts to flow upwards creating a whole new dimension of experience which is not limited by time and space. This is known as the awakening of Kundalini Energy (Shakti).
Ancient yogis realized that the human body-mind complex is most vulnerable at certain times, or more receptive at others. They observed the air flow in the right and left nostrils is rarely equal, and that the air flow changes every 90-120 minutes. They observed at the time of sunrise after a new moon, the left side or luna side will be more dominant, followed by the right side or solar side on the next 3 days.
In Hatha Yoga there are many forms of Pranayama. Some gentle, some strong. Different Pranayamas are used to achieve different effects on the body. The main ones we have used in class are Ujjayi and Analoma Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)
Some of my favorite Breath related quotes,
Deep breaths are like little love notes to your body.
When you own your breath nobody can steal your peace.
Breathe and release anything that does not serve you.
Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.
When the breath wanders, the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind to will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika.